Aussie Retailers Push for Online Tariffs

Consumers push back with boycott campaigns.

by staff writer
- Jan 06, 2011

Several large Australian retail chains are urging their government to tax online goods bought from foreign sites, causing uproar among Australian shoppers.

Currently, foreign retailers do not have to pay tariffs on imported goods if Aussie shoppers pay less than $1,000 for an item. However, brick-and-mortar shops say this gives online sellers an unfair advantage over domestic merchants. Shoppers disagree and say retailers should look for other ways to compete with online retailers, which often provide goods at 20 percent to 50 percent less than brick-and-mortar shops, according to news reports.

Customers have been so outraged at retailers' campaign to impose tariffs on lower-priced online goods that Facebook pages have popped up aimed at boycotting big chains like Harvey Norman.

But retailers say adding the import tax would level the playing field for domestic retailers, which have long struggled to compete with foreign sellers. In an August 2009 study, the Australian Payment Clearing Association found that Australian online shoppers spend 43 percent of their money on goods from foreign sellers.

Retailers argue that helping domestic retailers be more competitive with foreign merchants would keep jobs in Australia.

"I think that [it] is us being penalized and what we're asking is that that penalty be removed," says Helen Karlis, a spokeswoman for retailer David Jones.

However, enforcing such a tariff would be difficult, as there aren't enough customs officers to monitor all online sales and shipments entering the continent, according to Australia's assistant treasurer. He reports that more than 44 million pieces of mail arrive in Australia each year, and that customs officials can only open about 4,000 parcels a year.

"That's 2,000 hours opening a parcel every half hour, and checking value," says Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten. "It's very expensive to check this system."

Still, retail companies reportedly plan to expand their online tariff campaign with more advertisements, including radio and TV commercials.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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